by Cathi Bray
Belize has some of the best chocolate in the world. Not surprising, as it is the home of chocolate. But who’s making the best chocolate in Belize now?
A poem about chocolate:
Roses are red;
Violets are blue;
Did I say it would be a good poem? If you are a chocolate aficionado, though, you understand.
Wait… Is Belize a chocolate Mecca? Seriously?
People travel the world JUST to sample chocolate from the best chocolatiers on the planet.
We all know about Swiss chocolate, Belgium, French, and more, but word is chocolate was a Mayan invention. So Belize has bragging rights among the best. Some people even call Belize the “cradle of chocolate,” since this exquisite confection is known to have originated in the area.
A brief history of chocolate in Belize
If Christ came to Belize when he was on the earth, he could have enjoyed a tasty chocolate beverage. In the 1980s, archaeologists found 14 Maya chocolate pots, deemed to be over 2,600 years old. Some still had traces of chocolate! They say the Mayans liked to drink their delicious, dark chocolate beverage at every meal—I mean, duh! I like coffee, but chocolate with every meal? Sign me up!
Cacao plantation / Robert Wilson / Flickr / Commercial use allowed
The Hershey company housed their cacao plantation in Belize from 1984 to 1987. This was great for the Belizean economy until chocolate prices plummeted. Hershey moved out of Belize and many farmers, who were growing cacao to service the company, were out of business.
Many of those old cacao groves now grow citrus fruits, a current cash crop in Belize.
The new era of chocolate in Belize
The market has been returning since then through the efforts of the Toledo Cacao Growers Association among others. They produce organic chocolate for European markets and also train and assist local farmers in cocoa production.
Toledo Cacao Growers Association / Facebook
The Toledo district is the furthest south in the country, the hub for most of the chocolate production today.
Local producers followed, with more coming along each year. The first actual chocolate bar produced in Belize came from a company owned by Richard Burns. He managed the Hershey facility in Belize before it closed. Burns began his own chocolate production in the late 90s and named his company Theobroma, Greek for “food of the gods”.
Theobroma was the first Belizean-owned chocolate company, but it soon folded and there was no local chocolate production until the late 2000s.
Goss Chocolate / Facebook
Enter Goss Chocolate, started by Kerry and Linn Goss, from the Placencia area, still a favorite today. The Goss family uses only organic, local-grown chocolate, and milk from a local dairy. Their offerings have once again established Belize as a world-class, chocolate-producing nation.
Others soon followed. Jeff and Julie Pzena of Cotton Tree Chocolate, from the Toledo District; BCC, owned by Jo and Chris Beaumont and produced in San Pedro on Ambergris Caye; and Ixcacao Mayaa Belizean Chocolate.
Ixcacao – the home of chocolate in Belize
“I love all the chocolate here. Ixcacao is my favorite. I’m crazy about good chocolate, and Belizean chocolate holds its own against any chocolate I’ve ever had.” Kristin Harling, resident of Monkey River, Belize
Ixcacao Maya Belizean Chocolate is one of my favorites, too. The company is in the town of San Felipe in the Toledo District. Owners, Juan and Abelina Cho, are dedicated to growing organic cacao, using sustainable farming methods. They refuse to use any artificial flavorings. They believe “chocolate will save the rainforest.”
Chocolate will save the rainforest / Ixcacao Maya Belizean Chocolate / Facebook
And if you go to Ixcacao (pronounced, “ees-kuh- cow.” The “x” sounds like an “s” in English), besides the tours, don’t leave until you have had the chocolate chicken!
Oh, my goodness! Abelina, aka “The Chocolate Queen,” doesn’t follow a recipe. She goes out into the garden and harvests everything she needs for the meal right on site. You might choose chocolate chicken, pork, or fish, but whatever you get, it’s worth the trip from wherever you are.
There is even a chocolate festival in Punta Gorda, the largest town in the Toledo District. Here you can even get chocolate soap (that’s soap, not soup) and chocolate beer (that’s just… beer)! The Cacaofest, held on Commonwealth Day weekend in late May each year, includes live music, dancing, incredible food, and a lot of fun. And chocolate.
Drink chocolate and boost the economy
Cocoa is trading on the commodities market for a shade under a dollar a pound. That is close to the high the country enjoyed before the drop to $0.30/lb, which caused Hershey to pull out in the 80s. It also represents a four-year low in the current market. Maybe the Mayan gods need to remind everyone how healthy chocolate is and encourage a return to that three-times-a-day, drink-with-every-meal concept. That would be a definite boon to the market! Again, sign me up!
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Catherine “Cathi” Bray is a travel agent, freelance writer, and firearms instructor who splits her time between Belize and Texas with her husband, Tom and their Great Dane/Mastiff mix, Allen, and Poo-Hua-Hua puppy, Maya.